Space Workers Laid Off as NASA Picks New Direction, Winds Down Shuttle Program

Space shuttle Atlantis lands on runway 33 at NASA Kennedy Space Center's Shuttle Landing Facility concluding the STS-129 mission. Photo credit: NASA Jack Pfaller

Layoffs began last week at key NASA centers and contractors as a result of multiple factors. Some related to the wind down of the space shuttle program. Others resulted from Congressional action that will transition the space agency away from the Constellation program. A smaller number involved NASA budget reductions to one center.

A brief summary of layoffs across the nation:

Florida Space Coast

“In all, 877 workers from United Space Alliance and about 200 from other local shuttle contractors were laid off, effective Friday. It was the biggest wave of layoffs so far, in advance of the planned 2011 end of the space shuttle program. In all, the shuttle fleet’s retirement will cost the county about 8,000 space industry jobs.”

Source: Florida Today

Huntsville, Alabama

Reports indicate that the latest round of layoffs are involving 150-250 job cuts related to the Constellation program shift plus an additional 175 reductions related to the space shuttle program. Officials hope that many of the Constellation jobs will come back once Congress funds a new heavy-lift vehicle later this year. However, officials are worried about losing some key people:

McDaniel hopes a funding bill will come sooner rather than later, “because you have these world-class engineers and scientists out here and they’re not going to stay unemployed long.”

Sutinen worries about that, too. He said that Virgin Galactic – the company started by billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin airlines, records and mobile-phone fame that is already developing spacecraft and selling tickets – came to a job fair in Huntsville in July.

“They just told us right to our face ‘We’re here to steal 160 of your best people,'” Sutinen said.

Other Sources: WAFF-48 News | Huntsville Times

New Orleans, Louisiana

Lockheed Martin laid off about 300 workers at the NASA Michoud Assembly facility on Thursday as it wound down nearly 40 years of building space shuttle external tanks.

Source: NOLA.com

Houston, Texas

“United Space Alliance laid off 333 employees who worked here in the Johnson Space Center area Friday, as planned, and Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership President Bob Mitchell said ‘at least an additional 400’ were being laid off at aerospace firms, big and small, all around the area as the week came to an end.”

Source: The Citizen Bay Area

Utah

Solid rocket maker ATK laid off 414 engineers, factory workers and other employees at three northern Utah locations last Thursday. Some of the layoffs resulted from the phase out of the space shuttle program. Others were caused by the uncertainty over the Constellation program.

Source: Associated Press

Pasadena, California

JPL has laid off 45 workers due to a budget cut.

“Veronica McGregor, a JPL spokeswoman, said the layoffs – representing about half of an expected work force cut of almost 2 percent – came in response to a projected budget decrease for the coming fiscal year.

“‘Some employees have departed, but the departure dates were different depending on what employees were working on, so some have been notified but have not yet departed,’ McGregor said.

Source: Pasadena Star-News